STAFF at South Oxfordshire District Council won?t be able to move back into their offices for at least two years following last week?s suspected arson attack.
David Buckle, the authority?s chief executive, says his priority is to secure temporary accommodation for his employees after the huge blaze which ripped through the building in Crowmarsh Gifford in the early hours of Thursday last week.
The council offices, where 400 people worked, were severely damaged and may have to be demolished.
Mr Buckle said: ?If we can reinstate the building ? and that?s still a question ? we?re looking at a couple of years until that?s possible. We?re fully insured. We?re not anticipating any of this cost falling on taxpayers but it?s really down to our insurers to take a view.
?By the end of February I would expect all our systems to be fully functional again and I would expect us to be well on the way to moving into temporary accommodation while we sort out the future of Crowmarsh.?
Mr Buckle said he didn?t expect the local elections in May to be affected.
He said: ?Fortunately they are far enough ahead that it?s not going to have an impact. Our IT department is beavering away almost around the clock to get our systems back up and running.
?My concern is not so much about the actual running of the elections. The immediate issue is the people who are registered with us who have filled in forms online and making sure we have captured that.?
Mr Buckle was on a skiing holiday in France when he learned about the fire.
He said: ?When you?re sitting at the breakfast table on holiday and you get a phone call saying your offices are on fire it?s not what you ever expect. When the phone call had finished I think I said, ?I don?t think I believe what I?ve just been told?.?
He didn?t break off from his holiday but returned on Saturday as planned and went to see the blackened offices the next day.
He said: ?One side of the building is almost completely gone and the roof is gone, the other side doesn?t look too bad. My instant reaction was ?this is not going to be a quick job. We?re not going to back in there in a couple of weeks? time?.?
Senior staff were allowed back into the premises for the first time since the blaze on Wednesday.
The council is investigating what can be salvaged from the building and hopes to to recover important legal documents from the safe room, which was untouched by the fire.
Mr Buckle said some data would have been destroyed in the fire but added: ?I don?t think we have lost anything of huge significance that we won?t be able to recover.
?The council chamber and committee rooms are relatively unaffected. There?s some smoke damage so we?re looking to retrieve items from these areas.?
About 80 council staff are currently working out of Abbey House in Abingdon and it is hoped that the building will be able to accommodate at least another 100 employees by the end of next week.
Mr Buckle said: ?One of the really important things in this is that we don?t forget about staff. We?re sending out regular updates to staff and councillors every 48 hours or so.?
He said people who had made appointments with the council could be brought into Abingdon and staff would try to help those who turn up announced with housing and housing benefits enquiries.
Mr Buckle said he was proud of his staff who were working ?flat out?.
?The fact we have been able to keep disruption to services as little as we have is a testament to how everyone has pulled together,? he added.